Microsoft is creating a headset that can "talk" to the visually impaired and help them navigate their way through city streets.

The headset, which is designed to work with a Windows Phone device, relies on both navigation and location data. The data is then coupled with a network of information beacons that are sprawled on urban locations, enabling the device to describe routes.

For people who are faced with visual challenges every day, the idea of going on a new journey or being in a place they haven't been to before can leave them feeling anxious and stressed.

Several visually impaired people live with the fact that they are often restricted only to routes that they have learned by heart. They find themselves unaware of the notable attractions that they pass along the way. They choose to follow the same route and rarely divert from it lest they become disoriented.

Eight people with visual impairment have tested the headset. Five of them said that they felt safer and more confident while wearing it.

"We want to live like normal people," said Kirstie Grice, who has tested the new technology. "We don't always want to plan ahead to see if we can get community transport or a taxi or something; we want to be able to just jump on a bus and go somewhere and have that freedom."

The idea of making the headset came from an employee at Microsoft. It was designed as a collaboration between the UK's Future Cities catapult and Guide Dogs.

The bone-conducting headset uses 3D soundscape technology and has to be connected to a smartphone in order to work. Moreover, the headset needs to receive information from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth beacons strategically placed in intervals throughout the user's routes.

During the company's pilot program, company news writer Jennifer Warnick tried to see how the makeshift beacons would work. She walked along the streets blindfolded and relied only on the sounds for her guidance. She said that the experience made her feel like a "dry-land dolphin."

Warnick said that the beacons would regularly send her audio cues, such as the familiar galloping coconut noise from Monty Python, which indicates that she's on the right way. There are also sonar pings that would warn her if she's nearing a curb. Moreover, she is given turn-by-turn voice directions such as the distance of a place or the arrival of the bus that she's waiting for.

"A lot of the information comes from GPS and annotated maps in the cloud, which provide as much, if not more than, the beacons," says a Microsoft spokesman.

"People want to take it and start using it now," said  Mike Parker, a user experience designer in Microsoft. "We have to explain it's just a prototype; that this is just the beginning."

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